ProTips

The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

(No. 11, October 2004)

 

A guide to this month’s edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: Mediocrity: the Bane of Business

5. Quote of the Month

6. Ramblings

7. Announcements

 

Welcome

 

Welcome to Issue No. 11 of “ProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals.”

 

This month’s newsletter is filled with tips and thoughts to help with your professional development and to manage your business more profitably. My purpose is to stimulate your thinking; the industry benefits most when we all do our best.

 

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If you would like more information about any of the topics discussed in this newsletter, or have any thoughts you would like to share, call me at 510.881.9440, or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com.

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2. ProTips for Professional Development

 

Take risks…If you want to advance your career, you have to be willing to take risks. Doing the same old thing gets you the same old results. Advances in business, education, and technology don’t just happen. You have to take a risk and try something different to advance your career and profession. As the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Move out of your comfort zone, take a chance, and move your career forward. (No, I don’t mean buy a lottery ticket).

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Don’t make excuses…if you want to come off sounding like a pro. Often when someone is asked to do something they are not familiar with you hear pitiful excuses like, “I’ve never done this before,” “I’m not good at this,” “I don’t know if I can do this,” …whine, whine, whine. One of the first things you learn at Toastmasters, http://www.toastmasters.org, is to never reveal your weakness. Your audience, whether it’s your boss, your coworkers, or a group of 25 smiling school kids, wants you to succeed. There is no reason to share your weakness with your audience; it does nothing to help and everything to diminish your persona. The next time you’re asked to venture into unfamiliar territory, take the chance, and don’t make excuses.

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Look for the obvious…When faced with a problem, don’t throw your hands in the air and give up; stay positive and keep focused. Often, the answer lies just below the surface, thinly disguised as the solution. All you have to do is take a little time and explore the problem before you. Look for the simple solution first. Keep looking and don’t give up too easily. Sometimes the solution is laying there right before your eyes.

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3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

Truck abuse…Truck abuse is easy to identify if you just ask the right person. The next time you visit your shop, stop and ask each mechanic what he or she is working on. They will appreciate the attention and will be eager to let you know if the repair they’re making is the result of careless driving. Truck abuse can add needlessly to your maintenance costs. Take corrective action to keep your maintenance budget in line.

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Tire damage…Are your tire costs higher than usual? It’s hard to know because tire costs seem to be such a small part of your maintenance budget. They may actually be an unnecessarily large expenditure. To see if your tire dollars are being spent wisely, take a trip to the back of your shop, or wherever you store junk tires. Chances are you’ll see a heap of tires with gaping holes and slashes in the sidewalls. Aside from a few incidents, tire damage is generally from negligent driving. Usually the truck is driven over curbs or other large obstacles, or the tire is squeezed or pinched against a railroad track or other sharp object. Like truck abuse, negligent tire damage can add needlessly to your maintenance costs.

 

Self-adjusting brakes… Self-adjusting brakes have eliminated the need for manual adjustments, but they haven’t eliminated the need for frequent inspections. At a minimum, they should be inspected every time the truck hits the lube rack. Okay, I know most companies don’t put their trucks on racks, but you get the idea. Self-adjusting brake systems are so sophisticated that they need frequent inspections to insure they work properly. Consult with the brake manufacturer and follow their recommendations for inspections and repairs. Also, take advantage of their training sessions, usually free, to make sure your truck brakes are in good working order all the time. In the long run, you’ll save on repairs and hopefully prevent accidents.

 

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4. Topic of the Month: Mediocrity: the Bane of Business

Do you have employees who produce mediocre results? Do they drive you crazy, sending you on your way shaking your head in disgust? It’s a scene played over and over, not only in the waste industry, but in other businesses as well. Mediocre performance is thrust upon us at work and in our personal life. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?

 

There are many reasons for mediocre performance; some that top the list include poor hiring practices, training, and communications. In addition, personal issues like drug abuse, marital problems, money worries, or trouble with a child can take their toll on performance, and as the old saying goes, “You get what you expect.” “Hey, wait a minute,” you say, “I don’t expect low productivity, poor customer service, or poor behavior. Some employees are just that way.” Oh, really? If some employees are “just that way,” why then are they still on the payroll?

 

Here’s my take on it. Supervisors, managers and executives are so busy that there is a tendency to accept a little mediocrity within the ranks. However, before you know it, that little mediocrity can turn into BIG mediocrity. Now you have a problem on your hands, so it’s time to take action immediately; mediocre performance doesn’t only affect the doer, it affects your entire business, and can bring it down, one department at a time. It’s like a bad apple; if you don’t get rid of it, it will spoil the whole bunch.

 

Paul Giusti, a good friend of mine, used to tell me, “People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m only going to be mediocre today.’” Something, or a series of things, occurred to alter their behavior, resulting in mediocre performance. Everybody has a bad day now and then, but it’s when the bad day turns into a bad week or a bad month--or longer--that the real problem begins.

 

To nip it in the bud, managers should be alert to poor productivity, absenteeism, customer complaints, and grumbles from coworkers. When an employee’s performance is slipping, counsel them quickly and in private, making sure you document the meeting. You may need that documentation if you have to take the most drastic step of all--termination. Don’t make a big deal about the problem at first; search for the root cause. It may be a personal issue that is grinding away and keeping them from doing their best, so see what you can do to get help. You will be doing as much for your company as you are for your employee.

 

If the problem persists don’t let up; continue to counsel the employee. Don’t allow their problem to become your problem, however. If you get to that final step of termination, enlist the service of a human resources professional who is trained to handle difficult personnel situations. This will not only keep you out of legal trouble, but will guide you to the best solution for the problem.

 

Please don’t take this as a license for managers to hand over their problems directly to the human resource professional to fix. In some instances, the manager just needs the benefit of HR’s expertise. Managers should work through their own difficult issues; it’s part of the learning process. The lessons learned in each situation build the foundation from which managers grow. The more experience, the more valuable they become, and the easier it is to promote them. Actually, managers who don’t want to deal with tough personnel issues aren’t worth promoting. I had a boss, Jerome Kruszka, tell me one time, “If it weren’t for the people, they [the company] wouldn’t need us.”

 

The next time you notice mediocre performance from one of your employees, take immediate action to stop it. It will improve morale and the performance of your business unit. But most importantly, it will speak volumes for your wherewithal as a manager. It will indicate your striving for excellence when you root out mediocre performance at its core.

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5. Quote of the Month

 

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

-Albert Einstein, Scientist

 

Try something new; try something different. It will bring vitality to your endeavors and put a new face on your future. Don’t be afraid to fail; learn from it. You will grow and so will your career.

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6. Ramblings

 

I have a friend, Eduardo Carrasco, who is a member of my Toastmasters club. Eddie is an interesting character who leads an active life as an award-winning hair stylist. He owns his own shop, Eduardo’s Hair Design, writes for the local newspaper, and gives speeches to the service clubs in the area.

 

Eddie, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, is a trim guy with a big smile and a sunny disposition. He is the first one to offer his hand and welcome you. Once he gets going, he livens up the room with his singing, his stories and his bright smile.

 

When Eddie was 16, he and a buddy hopped a freight train from his home in San Antonio, Texas headed toward Los Angles. That experience presented Eddie, who only had two dollars tucked away in his shoe, with the challenges of finding food, lodging, and warm clothes. His stories about that time in his life reveal his courage--and his ability to overcome difficulties. “This experience,” he said, “changed my life forever.”

 

As you can figure, Eddie grew up in the time of the Great Depression and World War II, when he developed two of his lifelong passions--big bands and zoot suits. He is something to behold when he’s all decked out in his zoot suit, a dark blue pinstripe with a three-quarter-length coat, a long silver chain draped from his belt loop to his pocket, spiffy shoes, and a dynamite Panama hat to top it all off. When he adds the big smile it’s no wonder he’s still dancing and winning contests;--he’s just like the Energizer Bunny--going, going, and going, pushing through obstacles and challenges with sheer willpower and that sunny disposition.

 

The only thing that came close to getting Eddie down was when his wife of 53 years, Katie, died about five years ago. As a remarkable speaker and storyteller, Eddie told us heart-wrenching stories about how he fought loneliness and had to learn to do the simple tasks like laundry and cooking that Katie used to do for him.

 

Eddie is our most dedicated Toastmaster and our perennial Sergeant-at-Arms, making sure our room is ready and the meetings start on time. He rarely misses a meeting, but about a year ago he didn’t show up for a couple of weeks. We found out that he had suffered a mild stroke, but would be back as soon as he was able. Lo and behold, he returned to our meetings in about four weeks. Yes, the stroke affected his mobility a bit and his speech was slurred, but true to his nature, Eddie took this setback in stride. He engaged a speech therapist to help him reclaim his natural speaking voice and a physical therapist to help regain the full use of his arms and legs. Throughout, he shared his experience and the exercises he learned to help improve his speech. Eddie did his exercises day in and day out until he regained his full mobility and his natural voice. A year later you wouldn’t know he had a stroke unless he told you, which I find remarkable. Eddie just powers through adversity, an inspiration to everyone who knows him.

 

Just last week we needed a speaker to represent our club at the Toastmasters Fall Humorous Speech Contest. When our President, Laura Tonella, asked if anyone was interested, everyone except Eddie just stared at the papers in front of us. “I’ll do it”, he exclaimed, “I got more guts than brains.” I’m not sure about the brains part. I think he is pretty darn smart, because he never misses an opportunity to speak.

 

Eddie walked up to the lectern without any preparation and told us the story about hopping the freight train. He had us in stitches! We gave him a few pointers to help improve the speech and sent him to the contest the following week.

 

At the contest, I think his speech was even funnier than the first time. He just missed second place by a few seconds because he went over the time limit. At Toastmasters, all speeches are timed. When you see the red light you have 30 seconds to wrap up your speech. When Eddie heard he had gone overtime, he remarked with a big smile on his face, “I saw the red light, but I was having so much fun I just decided to keep talking. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess I’ll have to learn to stop at the red light.”

 

Well, Eddie, when you’re driving, you’d better stop at the red light. But when you’re talking, please don’t stop. Keep telling your stories and inspiring us to push through our difficulties. Show us how to accept challenge with a smile and a winning attitude.

 

Thanks, Eddie…you’re an inspiration to all of us.

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7. Announcements

 

“ProTips, the E-newsletter For Waste Industry Professionals” is produced and distributed monthly by R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc. I encourage you to share it with your colleagues and friends. You may reproduce this electronic newsletter in whole or in part, as long as you include the correct copyright notice (at the end of this newsletter), with a link to my website, http://www.protoconsulting.com.

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If you would like more information on any of the above topics, call me at 510.881.9440 or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com. Please visit my website at http://www.protoconsulting.com for more ideas on professional development and operational improvements.

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Your submissions are always welcome. Send them to ron@protoconsulting.com. If I use your submission, I’ll give you credit, unless you wish to remain anonymous. All submissions become the property of R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc., unless otherwise requested by the writer. (Sorry, that’s my lawyer friend).

 

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© Copyright 2004 Ronald J. Proto All rights reserved.